Ta-Ta-Today, Junior!—Growing Up With A Stutter

According to the speech therapist I visited in seventh grade, I stammered. My fellow peers deemed it a stutter. To me, I just had a hard time with the word, “I,” or any word beginning with a “wh-.”

The Stuttering Foundation states that there are four factors that most likely cause the development of this speech impediment:

  1. Genetics
  2. Child development
  3. Neurophysiology
  4. Family dynamics

My mom thinks it started when my grandma first got sick.

In her attempts to comfort me, she would say that it was just my brain trying to get me to slow down my incomprehensible rate of speech. And then she would remind me that my dad occasionally stutters.

Whatever the cause, my stutter started around the time I hit puberty, began wearing bras on a regular basis, and simultaneously playing on a soccer team full of adolescent boys. In other words, a speech impediment could not have appeared at a more inconvenient time.

Sixty-eight million people around the world stutter. It certainly isn’t the most uncommon speech condition to have. Even icons like Winston Churchill and Marilyn Monroe occasionally had a hard time getting their words out.

But in a town where standing out is only admired in sporting events, a stammer attracted the sort of attention an already self-conscious teenage girl did not need. I was a straight-A student, an athlete, and had (have) the most loving, supportive, and stable family at home. Yet whenever, and for whatever reason, a word got stuck in its delivery, my peers felt the need to mock me, and any self-esteem that I had built up, was shot (if only for a short while). It was hilarious to them that saying a simple world like “I” took me multiple tries. They would listen to me speak, just to see which word I would slip up on.

Stuttering in childhood is quite common. However, most children with stutters lose them later on.

It’s been a decade since I first started to stutter. I’m a senior in college applying for jobs and preparing for interviews. Stuttering should be the last thing on my mind. Usually it is. But on the off chance that I just can’t get a certain word out, the embarrassed and incompetent feelings creep back.

That I can deal with. I’m stronger and more confident than I was as a 12-year-old with a middle part and a gap in her two front teeth (thank God). Maybe that is because I dealt with the jeers for so long. More likely, I can deal with it because I’m not around young, inexperienced high-schoolers who would do anything to seem “cool.”

Writing this wasn’t meant to be a pity party. There are millions of people out there who stutter worse than I do or were bullied worse than I was. It’s just a way to get my thoughts down and tell a story without anxiously awaiting the inevitable tripping up over a “what,” “where,” or a “why.”

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